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Cougar Nation: Mormon missions help players prepare for football and life

Published: Thursday, April 21 2011 11:45 a.m. MDT

This past spring practice session at BYU saw an amazing number of returned missionaries join the team. For some, it was their first practice session while most of them were rejoining the team after having played for a year or two prior to their mission service. All-in-all, the 2011 spring practice session welcomed 10 recently returned missionaries into the football program.

A lot of those returning, such as Spencer Hadley, Justin Sorensen, Daniel Sorensen, Michael Alisa and Kaneakua Friel, had regular roles on the football team before their mission service. They are anxious to reprise and improve upon those previous roles.

A player’s athletic ability is up in the air post-mission. Some never regain their pre-mission form, while others return to what they were and even improve on what they’re able to do on the practice field.

Fortunately, those who returned this past offseason have picked up where they left off. Daniel Sorensen is the player to beat at the KAT safety position, Spencer Hadley is a lock to be on the two-deep roster at inside linebacker and Michael Alisa could break the two-deep at running back among other successes.

“I feel I did well and I feel even more able athletically and mentally than I did before my mission even,” said Hadley, who served in the Roseville, Calif., mission. “I’ve improved on all of my numbers as far as speed and strength and I definitely feel better able to help the team now than I did before my mission.”

Hadley and others believe they are better able to compete on the football field and in the classroom after having served missions. In turn, they feel being in the BYU football program helped prepare them for a mission.

BYU employs a so-called “big brother” program, which sees senior members of the football team acting as mentors to one of the new players.

“It’s seriously a lot like what we do in the mission with junior and senior companions,” Hadley said. “The big brother even writes a weekly letter to Coach Mendenhall on how they’re progressing, which is just like what senior companions do on the mission when they write to the mission president.”

Running back Michael Alisa roomed with Coleby Clawson on the team’s road trips and said Clawson was a big help in preparing him for his mission.

“Coleby was great,” Alisa said. “Just listening to him share his mission experiences, it really prepared me and made me even more excited to serve a mission for sure. I wanted those same experiences and I’m thankful to have guys like Coleby in the program at the time when I was a true freshman.”

Alisa served in the San Juan, Puerto Rico, mission, a place with which he wasn’t familiar before receiving his call.

“Daniel Sorensen got his call to Costa Rica like four days before I got my call,” Alisa said. “So when I opened my call and read that I was going to Puerto Rico, I called up Daniel and said, ‘Hey, we‘re going to the same mission!’ Daniel then told me that I was going to Puerto Rico which isn‘t even that close to Costa Rica so that was kind of funny. I obviously had no idea where Puerto Rico was or anything about it.”

Alisa found Puerto Rico’s climate to be similar to Hawaii, where he grew up. In other ways, it was different.

“You see some shocking things being out there serving in the areas we did,” he said. “Seeing people drunk all the time, even some murders with all the drug problems, it was shocking to see how people just took it as an everyday type of thing. It just motivates you because you see how badly the people of Puerto Rico need the gospel.”

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